The third-seeded Warriors and sixth-seeded Nuggets played each other four times, with the Nuggets coming away with three of the four close games. However, fans shouldn’t take too much stock in those games, as schedule changes, injuries and COVID-19 protocols all played some factor.
So how will these teams look when the ball is tipped for the first game of the series?
Here are five keys to the playoff series between Denver and Golden State.
How Does Golden State Stop Nikola Jokic?
Part of the reason Denver was able to win three of the four games over Golden State was because the Warriors didn’t have Draymond Green in any of the games. With his absence, Kevin Looney took on Nikola Jokic, and the MVP was able to go off for 28 points, 15.8 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game.
With Green back, how will Steve Kerr approach defending Jokic? Though placing either Green or Looney one on one on Jokic down low seems to be the plan given past matchups, Jokic will still find ways to score no matter who is on him.
The Warriors could also decide to double team or send an extra defender to help, however that doesn’t always seem to work either. With two players on him, Jokic will be able to find the open teammate on the outside to hit a three, it’s just a matter of them making it.
As the leader on the team in points, rebounds and assists, the Nuggets go as Jokic goes, and the Warriors will need to figure out a way to stop him.
Will Steph Curry Be Ready?
While the Warriors have gotten some key pieces of their lineup back in Klay Thompson and Green, the question on whether Stephen Curry will be back for Game 1 or beyond looms large.
Curry is an integral piece in Golden State’s scoring, as he led the team with 25.5 points per game before he went down with a sprained ligament and missed the remaining 12 games of the season. There’s optimism that Curry may be ready to go for Game 1, as he was able to fully participate in his first practice Wednesday, however it appears to be a game-time decision.
Steph Curry will be ready when his number is called 😤 pic.twitter.com/kzirdUFf1W
— Warriors Nation (@WarriorNationCP) April 15, 2022
Having Curry back would be an enormous addition for the Warriors, Even if he is not fully healthy, fans and players alike know the impact two-time MVP has in the playoffs. Curry averages 26.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 6.3 assists in the playoffs while shooting 45% from the field and 40.1% from 3.
The Warriors will have the upper hand in 3-point shooting, as they attempt 39.4 3s a game, third most in the league, and connect on 36.4% of them. The Nuggets, to compare, are down at 13th in attempts this season, with 35.9 attempts per game while connecting on 35.3%.
While Curry is the obvious option to shoot the three for Golden State, having the ability to drain one from nearly anywhere on the court at a 38% clip this season, the Warriors have other shooters.
The return of Thompson brings another shooting dimension to the floor, as he ended the season scoring 36, 33 and 41 points on 50% or better shooting from the field and closed out the regular season with a 38.5% 3-point percentage.
Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins are teammates Curry will look to pass to if he gets doubled, as both can drop it into the net efficiently. Poole has been especially strong against Denver, shooting at a 60.9% 3-point percentage and 58.1% from the field. Wiggins on the other hand, is a streaky shooter, finishing the season 39.3% from beyond the arc, however he does have the ability to get hot.
On the other side of the ball is the Nuggets, where Jokic will be taking up most of the attention. While he works the basket down low and scores plenty of points on the inside, his teammates will be open outside the arc when Jokic gets double teamed.
In that regard, Denver will look to Monte Morris to hit some of those shots, who Golden State will be familiar with after Morris hit a buzzer-beating, 3-pointer to beat them already this season. Morris is shooting 46.7% from the 3-point line against the Warriors this season and 39.5% from the line on the whole, so Denver will be looking to him to be a secondary option to Jokic. Bryn Forbes and Will Barton are other shooting options for the Nuggets, as Forbes is shooting 41.4% this season from deep while Barton is 36.5%.
Who Can Survive Injuries?
While Curry is making headlines about whether he’ll be able to play in the series, he’s not the only player dealing with an injury on either team, and the series may well come down to who can withstand said injuries.
Just as Thompson returned to the lineup this season off of a two-year injury hiatus, Green went down with a back injury. Green finally returned only to have Curry go out. The injuries, in turn, resulted in the Warriors’ three key players only playing 11 minutes together this season, which will leave them getting back on track in the playoffs. James Wiseman was also out for the season, adding to the injury report.
The Nuggets have also dealt with their fair share of injuries, and are still unsure of who will return for this first round. Jamal Murray has not played for Denver all season, as he is recovering from an ACL tear, while Michael Porter Jr. was sidelined with a back injury after nine games.
Klay Thompson on the mental hurdles that Jamal Murray may be going through right now.
Murray tore his ACL a year ago in Chase Center and Klay was one of the first people to visit him in the hospital.
His return this post-season has not been ruled out. pic.twitter.com/TxR0DS0ln8
— Jason Dumas (@JDumasReports) April 14, 2022
The Nuggets have some solid role players to go along with Jokic, and they’ll need to impact the game enough to sustain the injuries of Murray and Porter, as Jokic can only do so much.
Whose Experience Will Hold Up
Experience will also come into play here for both teams, as the Warriors and Nuggets have players returning to the playoffs. Though the Warriors have the core of Curry, Thompson, Green and Iguodala with plenty of playoff experience under their belts, they also have a few young guys, and the Nuggets bring experience as well.
Denver are returning to the playoffs for the fourth time, and in each of their three previous playoff appearances, they have made it past the first round. Though Murray was an integral part of the Nuggets’ Western Conference Finals run in 2020, he went down before the playoffs last season, leaving Jokic to lead the team.
The Nuggets will once again look to Jokic lead them. In the playoffs, Jokic has averaged 25.9 points, 11.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists. Aaron Gordon, Morris, Barton and Co. also all have playoff experience.
The Warriors will be led by Thompson, Green, Andre Iguodala, and most likely Curry, as they not only have playoff experience but have won a championship as well. However, Poole, Jonathan Kuminga and quite a few other role players will be getting their first taste of the postseason. Wiggins and Nemanja Bjelica have 12 games combined of playoff experience.
So how will it all play out? Will the inexperience play much of a factor in the series at all? Or will injuries be the bigger problem?
Find out when Game 1 tips off on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Chase Center. And don’t forget to get in on all the NBA postseason action at BetUS, America’s Favorite Sportsbook.